In Part 1 of this two-part interview, PPA Executive Director John Pappas discussed new initiatives introduced by the PPA and the current political landscape surrounding legislation introduced by Barney Frank at the United States federal level. In this concluding second part, Pappas discusses several other issues of interest to the United States poker players.
PokerNews: Around the end of 2009, banking regulations called for under the UIGEA are scheduled to be fully implemented. Will the landscape for online poker change at that point, and if so, how?
John Pappas: It very well could. We are hopeful that there could at least be a delay in the regulations. Barney Frank has introduced another bill [H.R. 2266] which would delay the implementation of the regulations for at least another year. While we think that’s interesting, we don’t think it’s substantive enough to stop the banks from just going ahead and implementing their policies and procedures. We’d like to see a further clarification and the PPA is working with “unlikely allies” to strengthen the enforcement of the UIGEA in some respects, but loosen it in respect to online poker play.
PN: Let’s talk about the recent seizure of roughly $40 million in online poker funds by the US Department of Justice. Can you elaborate on that for our readers?
Pappas: Sure. We learned of the action as soon as it took place in the first week of June. The PPA has been working with our legal counsel and we’ve created a new legal team, in which to investigate this matter and see what the best way to respond to it will be. We’re looking at all appropriate avenues, and we think that we have a strong legal case with which to protect the players’ money down the road. From what I understand, most of the players have been reimbursed by the sites, but that money is still technically frozen, so we are exploring avenues in how we can unfreeze that money. And if that means litigation, we may go that route.
PN: The PPA has repeatedly referred to the seized funds as “the players’ money”. Can you more clearly explain that?
Pappas: Interestingly, the monies which were seized were in most case payouts to players, either of their winnings or refunds of their initial online poker deposits. This could not in any way be construed as proceeds of illegal gambling. It couldn’t be argued that it the money itself was somehow associated with illegal activity. This was people playing poker on the Internet, and as we strongly believe, there is no federal law which says it’s unlawful to play poker on the Internet. Therefore, the idea that players’ money is being seized we think is a complete violation of those individuals’ rights, and we’re exploring all avenues in order to protect that money.
PN: It seems as though the PPA could easily qualify for legal “associational” status regarding its US member players. Is this an ongoing process?
Pappas: Sure. We are communicating with our members to see how they were affected, and whether it’s appropriate to bring a claim on their behalf. It’s nothing we’re going to jump into; we won’t “willy nilly” file a lawsuit. We want to make sure that this is done in a very professional matter that gets the attention it deserves.
PN: One criticism that detractors have occasionally fired off at the PPA in various forums and discussion groups is that the PPA may engage in “feel good” measures, but really hasn’t yet tested its political mettle. Is that a fair complaint? How do you respond to those detractors?
Pappas: I don’t think it’s a fair complaint at all. We’ve tested our political mettle in a number of ways. I don’t consider the issue with the SDNY [the U.S. Department of Justice, Southern District of New York, regarding the funds seizure], to be a political issue; this is a legal issue. We’re not going to approach this with a letter-writing campaign to the Department of Justice or President Obama directly on this issue. What we are going to do is respond to this in a legal way, not a political way.
In terms of us testing our political mettle, we’ve done a fine job of that. It’s remarkable that we’re even talking about legislation to license and regulate Internet poker, when just two years ago, we were beating back measures that were going to try to prohibit the game, such as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). [For someone to] say that we haven’t proven our political mettle is not giving us the credit that is deserved in terms of building the organization.
In the last Congress there were eight pro-Internet gaming bills introduced, one of which passed Barney Frank’s committee by a bipartisan majority; that had everything to do with the PPA pushing it and making sure that Republican members voted for it. It had a lot to do with our PPA members in those Congressional districts weighing in. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), our biggest opponent, even conceded and said “Even though I oppose this bill, my colleagues on the committee have been hearing from their poker players who want to play this game.” And when you have our biggest opponent conceding that the grass roots is working against him, that means a lot, and in fact, in a recent article in The Politico, which is a widely-read Capitol Hill rag, Bachus admits that there is no way he can defeat Barney’s bill this year. He says that in plain black-and-white.
PN: Twelve months from now, where will the PPA’s efforts be focused?
Pappas: We’ve got to see where we are legislatively. Obviously we’d love to be in a position where we are now at a point where we are convincing every single state to opt in to the licensed and regulated Internet gaming platform that the federal government has passed. That’s ambitious; as an organization, what we need to be focused on is continuing to build support for our issue at the federal level.
We’re also going to continue to play a significant role in defending poker players and proving that poker is a game of skill at the state level, which I believe is a valuable part of this entire fight. Not only does it broaden the appeal of the Poker Players Alliance to say, “This is not just about Internet poker, this is about the game, and what’s healthy for the game is healthy for the Internet game, which is healthy for the brick-and-mortar game, which is healthy for the home game. I think we’re going to try to continue to pick our battles there, in states that make sense, where we can win the argument that poker is a game of skill and therefore not unlawful gambling.
We’re going to build our litigation, we’re going to continue to work on Capitol Hill to educate Congress; we’d love to see the co-sponsorship for bills like Barney’s and Senator Menendez’s to build to well over 100 co-sponsors, and we want to get a vote. We want, by next year, to have a vote on the House floor on this legislation. I think that within a year we will be able to say that we’ve had a vote on Internet gaming, and I’m sure that if we get a vote we’re going to win.